Survivor guilt

It happened sooner than I expected, and it hit me like a tidal wave. When attending the funeral visitation for my sister-in-law’s husband’s sister, I wasn’t certain of her cause of death – until I saw the scarf on her head.

She was 64. She had children, grandchildren. She had been diagnosed with leukemia less than a year ago. A bone marrow transplant put the leukemia in remission, but then it came back with a vengeance. She was diagnosed about the time I was finishing the first phase of my treatment. I celebrated one year as a survivor. She did not.

As I stood looking at her, the question, “Why have I survived and she did not,” rolled through my mind. That could be me. Stage 3B metastatic melanoma – that could be me. Why have I been spared with clean scans, more than a year past my diagnosis, and her family mourns?

I fought back tears as I hugged my sister-in-law and her husband. I hung on each word as they explained his sister’s battle with leukemia. I walked out of the church and bit my lip. I barely knew this lady, yet we were kindred spirits through cancer. Family birthdays and anniversaries were the only time I had seen her. Buried deep in my own battle last summer, I had missed the news of her diagnosis. And yet I survive.

I’ve read a little about survivor’s guilt. That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the emotions of seeing a cancer victim lifeless in a casket, while you stand with no evidence of disease.

As luck would have it, we were visiting my family that day. My walls crumbled briefly when I saw my sisters. A couple of big hugs and a few tears and I was through my first wave of survivor guilt.

Until there is a cure for cancer, I know it won’t be the last wave of guilt that will wash over me. While I am proud of the fight I’ve put up this past year, I still can’t help wonder every day I survive, “Why me and not them?”


One response to “Survivor guilt

  1. Its tough isn’t it? People expect that we should be delighted to be in remission (and we are), but it is so hard to find acceptance for the negative feelings.

    Any time I hear about another child who has died from cancer, or had a worse treatment experience than my Monkey did (which is most of them!) I feel guilty that I got to keep my baby, that we got off so lightly.

    I am sorry you had to experience this. But it is normal to feel this way, and you are not alone.

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